Ways to Manage Anxiety & Depression in College

*Trigger Warning: Anxiety and Depression*

After I reached the lowest point in my life during finals week, I finally reached out to a psychologist over the summer. This was a momentous decision for me as I was in denial of the severity of my anxiety and depression symptoms for years. It was only when I lost complete function in my life that I ultimately faced the reality: I need help. 3 months of therapy later, I’ve accumulated a list of tips from the internet, self-help books, and my psychologist for managing anxiety and depression symptoms in college.

 

1. Attend therapy sessions. With assignments, classes, internships, volunteering, jobs, and socializing on our plate, there seems to be no time for maintaining our health―especially our mental health. However, with modifications to schedules and different counseling platforms available, it’s possible to speak with a professional or trained personnel. Recently, the Brandeis Counseling Center (BCC) extended their hours on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, to 8 pm to accommodate potential conflicts with students’ schedules. The BCC staff can also provide you with a list of mental health professionals off campus. Visit the BCC website for more information on the staff and how to schedule an appointment: https://www.brandeis.edu/counseling/

Brandeis also offers counseling services through 6TALK, a confidential and anonymous peer hotline. You can find Brandeis 6TALK on Facebook and contact them at [email protected] or 781-736-8255 between 10 pm and 2 am, 7 days a week, excluding holidays.

Another Brandeis counseling resource is the STAR (Students Talking About Relationships) club which offers in-person peer counseling on topics such as rape crisis, mental health, LGBTQ+, etc. You can find STAR Peer Support on Facebook and contact them at [email protected] or 781-736-4745 between 1pm-7pm, Monday through Friday and Sunday, excluding holidays.

Consider online counseling platforms like BetterHelp.com which matches you to a mental health professional online after an in-depth questionnaire. This a great alternative if you need flexibility with time and counselor selections or want to remain anonymous. BetterHelp also offers a free 7-day trial for new members: https://www.betterhelp.com/ Please note: BetterHelp does not replace face-to- face therapy and isn’t a solution for the management of emergency cases

2. Track your moods with the Daylio app. The Daylio app is a free app which allows you to track daily moods and activities. Daylio compiles your daily mood levels into a chart so you can evaluate your mood changes over a period of time. Daylio’s statistics section also notes your most frequent activities and which mood level they correspond to.

3. Write it down. If you enjoy writing or need to vent, keep a diary or journal of your thoughts and emotions. You can also channel your energy into forms of creative writing or other art forms such as drawing.

4. Eat three meals a day. This seems like a health tip but did you know that the onset of Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) after not eating for extended periods of time can trigger fluctuations in anxiety and depression symptoms? This can be especially dangerous for people who experience appetite loss as a result of these fluctuations, further deterring them from eating. If you can’t stomach a meal, keep healthy snacks on hand to munch on and curb your hunger.

5. Reduce your sugar intake. I won’t ask you to cut sugar out of your diet because that’s nearly impossible. Sugar is hiding in everything. EVERYTHING. However, it’s possible to reduce your daily sugar intake. Make sure to read nutrition labels for the grams of sugar per serving size. Don’t trust your taste buds to determine whether or not you’re consuming too much sugar. I recently discovered that a high intake of sugar was responsible for spikes in my anxiety levels. So choose a low sugar or sugar-free alternative whenever possible.

6. Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night. I know, I know. You might be staying up to finish an assignment, play video games, watch Netflix, or you might be thinking: sleep is for the weak, but hear me out. Sleep deprivation leaves you more susceptible to, and in some cases, increases the intensity of your anxiety and depression symptoms. Managing these symptoms throughout the day will deplete the energy levels necessary for completing assignments or working. If you’re experiencing sleep problems such as insomnia, regulate your sleep schedule, refrain from viewing electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime, and most importantly, consult with a health physician beforehand if you’re interested in taking a sleep aid.

7. Read or listen to self-help books. Bibliotherapy is a great way to de-stress or distract your mind. You can even choose to switch between reading a book or listening to an audiobook version of it for variety. I recommend Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns. This book was immensely helpful in identifying different types of distorted thinking, detailing ways to reconstruct automatic negative thoughts, and reminding me that these mental disorders didn’t define me. Free downloadable pdf versions of the book are available online.

8. Relax with meditation. Relaxing when you have an anxiety disorder(s) is a challenge. However, meditation is one way to release tension even for just a few minutes. Headspace is a great free app with different meditation sessions and techniques. Youtube is also another platform with a variety of meditation videos.

9. Try audio therapy. A close family member of mine always listens to autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) videos to relax and fall asleep when she feels anxious at night. Listening to soothing music or even podcasts can help distract you from racing or negative thoughts and eventually, fall asleep.

10. Stay active. Exercise! You’re probably grumbling over that word but exercise is a broad term for different types of physical activity. It doesn’t have to be intense cardio workouts. There are plenty of ways to get and stay active. I registered for a dance class last semester and was able to learn dances, have fun, and most importantly, stay active! If dance isn’t your thing, then consider a light jog or morning walk each day if possible. Even opting to take the stairs instead of the elevator, helps.

11. Treat yourself. It’s easy to get lost in your work so make sure to treat yourself: whether it be a movie, Thai food, a nice warm shower, or sleeping in. Just remember, balance is key. Make sure that self-indulgence doesn’t become a form of procrastination.

12. Take short and hydrated breaks. We all want to power through our assignments but at some point in the process, our brain becomes too fried to absorb any information or solve problems. That’s why it’s important to take mental and physical breaks. After all, our brain works best in chunks. The length of these chunks varies among individuals. I prefer one-hour chunks with 5-10 minute breaks in between. Remember to stay hydrated! Your mind and body need water to function properly.

13. Attend events. Chances are, there’s at least one event on campus or nearby that you’re interested in attending. If time isn’t an issue, I encourage you to attend. You’ll likely meet others with similar interests and get some much needed fresh air or a change of scenery.

14. Log off or delete social media. A few months ago, I couldn’t live without social media; Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, you name it, I had it. As my mental health continued to deteriorate and reached its lowest point by finals week, I logged off Facebook and deleted Instagram and Snapchat from my phone. I’d treated social media as a means of numbing and distracting me from my worsening anxiety and depression, but I was ignoring a larger truth: it was actually feeding them. In an act of utter desperation, I disconnected myself from all my social media platforms. What did I learn? I didn’t need them. 3 months later, I still check Facebook throughout the day but I haven’t returned to Instagram or Snapchat. This decision has granted me more time and stability. I can finally focus on my mental wellbeing.